Gangwon Eco-Peace Biosphere Reserve, Republic of Korea - Unesco Heritage Biosphere 2019



The largely mountainous Gangwon Eco-Peace Biosphere Reserve, at the watershed of the Taebaek Mountain Range in northern Gangwon Province, borders the southern limit of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) to the north and reaches the east coast of the Korean Peninsula to the east. It is home to a wide range of rare and endangered flora and fauna. Development plans for the Biosphere Reserve focus on eco-tourism using the ecological, cultural and social resources of the area, as well as the exploration of relics of the Korean War in the area.


Ecological Characteristics

The Biosphere Reserve forms the ecological backbone of the Korean Peninsula. They are situated within two of the three core ecological axes of the Peninsula designated by the Ministry of Environment, namely the DMZ and Baekdu-daegan ecological axes, forming the eastern and north-south ecological belts. The area, with a wide variety of unique environmental landscapes ranging from the flat areas in the west to the mountainous areas in the east, and incorporating plains, grassland, farmland, rivers, high moors, and mountains, is an invaluable conservation site and a treasure trove for academic research owing to its diverse landscape and ecosystems. 

It plays a crucial role as a stopover site in East Asia’s bird migration route. Warm water (15℃) erupts from a natural spring in Chuntong-ri, Cheorwon during winter, keeping the climate mild all-year-round. These factors make the region an excellent natural habitat for migratory birds, accommodating as many as 126 species. The area is also inhabited by such wild animals as: 17 mammal species (10 families) including the Amur Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis euptailurus; Category II endangered species designated by the Ministry of Environment) and Siberian Flying Squirrel (Pteromys volans; Natural Monument No. 328 and Category II endangered species); 61 fish species (nine orders, 17 families) including the Cyprinid Fish (Hemibarbus mylodon; Natural Monument No. 259), Korean Bitterling (Acheilognathus lanceolatus; Category II endangered species), and Kumgang Fat Minnow endemic to the Korean peninsula (Rhynchocypris kumgangensis); 18 amphibian and reptile species (two orders, seven families) including the Reeve’s Turtle (Mauremys reevesii; Category II endangered species), Russian Rat Snake (Elaphe schrenckii; Category II endangered species), and Suwon Tree Frog (Hyla suweonensis; Category I endangered species). Some of the rare and/or endemic plant species designated by the KFS are also found in this area, including the Hybrid Suwon Poplar (Populus tomentiglandulosa T. Lee) and Northern Pipevine (Aristolochia contorta). 

Socio-Economic Characteristics

The Biosphere Reserve, as well as the inter-Korean border region, have languished under the patchwork of laws governing military, environmental, and forest-related affairs. The restrictions placed upon residents’ freedom to engage in economic activities provoked a deep sense of resentment toward regulations, creating residents the perception that government-sponsored environmental programs and projects are simply a pretext for imposing extra regulations. As a result, any attempt to initiate environmental projects has triggered resistance from local residents. The continued outreach efforts of residents, public servants, and experts have somewhat alleviated the resentment toward regulations that had previously dominated local communities. These endeavors turned the residents’ focus toward utilizing resources in the region to stimulate the local economy. These outreach programs highlighted the ecological significance and unique socio-cultural qualities of the region, evident from the outstanding ecological conditions, war relics, and historical resources, along with the possibility to leverage these features to drive the local economy. Various tourism programs are also being developed for the region.